Movie Review: Seven Days in Utopia
Lately, I become enthused about almost any new film that can’t be referred to as a remake, a reboot or sequel. It seems as though most are now merely a reconstitution of old ideas so even a quiet movie about a man and his love of sport feels, while imitative, still refreshing. Unfortunately, Seven Days in Utopia is no more than an unsuccessful mashup of clichés. It may be considered an “original” film, but I feel confident that I have seen it before.
The film is about a troubled man, Luke Chisholm (played by Lucas Black) searching for something. He winds up in a small town and through his experiences there, learns some “important” lessons about life. He begins the film with internal conflict, but through a little mentoring conquers all challenges standing in his way. Basically, he finds his “true” self and it can be assumed that he will spend his remaining years remembering fondly the schooling he gathered through his brief time spent there.
But, of course, there is more.
This is also a sports movie and the sport, while unimportant, is golf. Sports are commonly infused into these lessons because what better way to learn about life than through the idealized concepts and rules regarding sportsmanship. Our protagonist is an aspiring pro-golfer who while driving nearly hits a bull and lands his car into a ditch forcing him to temporarily reside in the town of Utopia, Texas. Through a series of flashbacks we learn he has had a bad run of luck with his golf game, stemming from daddy issues laced with anger. He is physically and emotionally lost.
Conveniently, whilst still bleeding from the head he proceeds to meet Robert Duvall, his replacement father figure and a possible love interest in Deborah Ann Woll. He also meets his future rival (Brian Geraghty) and a woman who makes good pie (Melissa Leo). I could go through and imdb the characters’ names, but their stereotypes create a fuller description than any moniker could. Father figure, girlfriend, and struggling golfer is truly all you need to know.
Our protagonist’s injuries do not hinder the development of the contrived plot and Duvall’s wise, yet quirky, cowboy promptly invites him to stay in town. He promises to teach Luke the tools needed to become a great golfer. These tools include painting a picture of a tree, fly fishing, and attempting to land a small, crashing plane. His young student is surprisingly proficient in all of these tasks because (as far as I can tell) flaws would only develop his character. Through these experiences he begins to improve his game while spending very little time actually playing golf.
The prevailing action resides around gaining the secret to becoming a good golfer and it should be noted that its “secret” can be found more readily by studying the sermons of Billy Graham than the footage of Tiger Woods. Duvall’s lessons are not ultimately about the game of golf or even the game of life but instead about the importance of allowing God, and faith, into one’s heart. Like the sneakiest of missionaries, this mentor never blatantly proclaims his motives. Instead, he gains his pupil’s trust and saves his favorite lesson for the end.
Excluding a quote from the Old Testament’s Ezekiel at the film’s beginning nothing is overtly religious, but I assume that Kirk Cameron was at some point attached because God is implied throughout every moment. Even the filter on the camera lens (causing a slight Thomas Kincaid effect) should remind the audience of a Hallmark channel feature.
It is nearly impossible to not parallel the film with another piece starring Robert Duvall, The Apostle. While also a film overtly about spirituality, it allows the audience to engage in the story through well-developed characters and its plot doesn’t appear to have been found crumpled up in the trash. Good religious films can exist, but not when they are surrounded by such obvious propaganda.
While I am not conclusively opposed to the idea of a “message film”, it is one that I tread with great caution. This one, in particular, left me desperate for a beverage or gum, anything to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Most of the movie consists of Luke performing an action and then being told what that action means. It treats its audience more like a Kindergartner than an intelligent filmgoer. I assume this is because the filmmakers wanted to make sure the audience “got it”, but I demand more respect from the films that I pay money to see.
Any potential conflict foreshadowed throughout the film is merely a tease to keep the audience watching. None of the supporting characters are significant, not even the lead matters as much as the overall religious zealotry that lingers throughout the piece. A cast featuring the great Robert Duvall and the captivating Melissa Leo can’t even save this film.
Seven Days in Utopia is a film with little charm, no originality and even less intrigue. At its best it could have been a nice piece of fairy tale escapism, but instead it falls flat predominately because it has more interest in promoting a belief than telling a well-rounded story. It asks no questions, seeks no analysis and demands no thought whatsoever. If evangelism is how you want to spend Friday night, then this is the movie for you, otherwise I would advise picking a random sequel. Hey, the first one was good, right?
Rating 1 / 5
Seven Days in Utopia is rated G. Directed by Matthew Dean Russell. Starring Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Deborah Ann Woll, Melissa Leo and Brian Geraghty.